Diaceutics finds sharp downturn in US cancer diagnoses due to COVID-19

  • Belfast-headquartered medtech Diaceutics announced results from its COVID-19 real-time oncology tracker, which shows the impact of the crisis on cancer testing and diagnosis in the US.

    The figures have been tracked monthly since January 2019 and found that COVID-19 lockdown measures have caused a rapid decrease in patients being diagnosed.

    From February to March this year, the results showed:

    • 31% drop in the number of patients being diagnosed with lung cancer
    • 14% reduction of new patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer
    • 14% drop in newly-diagnosed patients with acute myeloid leukaemia
    • 8.4% and 8.6% decreases in the number of newly-diagnosed breast cancer and ovarian cancer patients

    The findings are based on a representative dataset from Diaceutics′ data lake, which includes community, commercial and academic laboratories.

    Diaceutics works with more than 35 global pharmaceutical companies across hundreds of precision medicine projects to help improve patient testing through generating insights from clinical laboratory testing data.

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    The local firm defines newly-diagnosed cancer patients as those who have undergone a biopsy and surgical pathology testing, and have not been recorded in the company’s database previously.

    Its CCO Jordan Clark said: “These insights highlight the devastating impact that COVID-19 is having on cancer patients, from both a social distancing and healthcare system capacity viewpoint.

    “Our research shows that laboratories are receiving fewer samples and hospitals are performing fewer biopsies. In fact, one community hospital laboratory reported that molecular oncology testing had slumped by 25%.

    “Of course, the downturn in rates varies across the different types of cancer, with lung cancer being the worst affected. We suspect that this is because COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, so the symptoms that patients would normally consult their doctor about are potentially being mistaken for the novel coronavirus.

    “On the other hand, in the case of acute myeloid leukaemia, patients tend to be very sick by the time of diagnosis and need to be immediately hospitalised, so these people are more likely to enter the healthcare setting despite the pandemic.

    “The reality of the situation is that fewer people are going for regular screening or attending medical appointments to get symptoms checked out. In addition, we have seen social distancing and repurposing of labs’ resources to tackle COVID-19 testing impact their ability to process oncology testing.

    "This means that fewer people are getting diagnosed and therefore tested for specific biomarkers. Optimal companion diagnostic testing is vital for getting precision medicine therapies to as many patients as possible.

    “Our research shows that COVID-19 is having a detrimental impact on the already fractured testing ecosystem, which means that even more cancer patients are missing out on getting the treatment that is right for them at the right time.

    “While this data relates to the US, the COVID-19 pandemic is a global issue so there is no doubt that the same trends are emerging elsewhere and that this decline will continue in the weeks to come.”

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    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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